Smith's Bible Dictionary


Jeph'thah. (whom God sets free). A judge about B.C. 1143-1137. His history is contained in Jdg 11:1; Jdg 12:8. He was a Gileadite, the son of Gilead and a concubine. Driven by the legitimate sons from his father's inheritance, he went to Tob and became the head of a company of freebooters , in a debatable land , probably , belonging to Ammon. 2Sa 10:6. (This land was east of Jordan and southeast of Gilead, and bordered on the desert of Arabia. -- Editor).

His fame as a bold and successful captain was carried back to his native Gilead; and when the time was ripe for throwing off the yoke of Ammon, Jephthah consented to become the captain of the Gileadite bands, on the condition, solemnly ratified before the Lord in Mizpeh, that in the event of his success against Ammon, he should still remain as their acknowledged head. Vowing his vow unto God, Jdg 11:31, that he would offer up as a burn offering , whatsoever should come out to meet him if successful, he went forth to battle.

The Ammonites were routed with great slaughter; but as the conqueror returned to Mizpeh, there came out to meet him his daughter, his only child, with timbrels and dancing. The father is heart-stricken; but the maiden asks only for a respite of two months , in which to prepare for death. When that time was ended, she returned to her father, who "did with her according to his vow."

The tribe of Ephraim challenged Jephthah's right to go to war as he had done, without their concurrence, against Ammon. He first defeated them, then intercepted the fugitives at the fords of Jordan, and there put forty-two thousand men to the sword. He judged Israel six years, and died.

It is generally conjectured that his jurisdiction was limited to the TransJordanic region. That the daughter of Jephthah was really offered up to God in sacrifice is a conclusion which it seems impossible to avoid. (But there is no word of approval, as if such a sacrifice was acceptable to God. Josephus well says that "the sacrifice was neither sanctioned by the Mosaic ritual nor acceptable to God." The vow and the fulfillment were the mistaken conceptions of a rude chieftain, not acts pleasing to God. -- Editor).


Taken from: Smith's Bible Dictionary by Dr. William Smith (1884)